New Delhi is a place like nothing else i have ever seen. I expected the crowds and the pollution and I knew that that poverty here would appall me, but nothing really prepared me for one aspect of Indian society that I’d read about, but had ever seen first hand…
We woke up this morning and enjoyed western breakfasts that were recommended by a local tuk tuk driver. As we were leaving the restaurant with our stomachs then appeased, the same driver offered us a ride once more, which we actually did need.
He brought us over to one of his drivers (this was a manager I suppose) and they both made us feel very welcome and promised that they’d get us to our location (an HSBC; the only bank that will let us withdraw from our Chinese bank account) and we were off.
Our driver showed us landmarks along the way and asked us questions about our lives. He told us that he has 4 children (2 boys and 2 girls) and that tomorrow is he and his wife’s anniversary (years!). He was very easy going and friendly and we didn’t feel pushed at all by him. Many taxi drivers in China will try and scam you, and I kept waiting for that from this guy, but he seemed legit.
After taking us to the bank, he drove us down to a government tour office. He said they could us plan any train trips we needed and that we could save some money if we got set up with a rail pass. We agreed to stop in, and he said he’d wait outside.
The tour agency ended up being immensely helpful and we booked our next 12 days with them. We’ll be able to see 2 extra cities and have everything taken care of for us because of our Tuk Tuk driver friend.
The agent at the office offered us his driver for the rest of the day as a ‘bonus’ for booking with them, and a few minutes later, our Tuk Tuk friend came in so we could pay him and he could continue on with his day.
Now, this is where things get infuriating for me….
As he entered the room, our jovial and friendly driver turned meek and quiet. At first, we didn’t understand why, but we soon realized that it was because of our company. Not only did these tour guides talk to him like he was a small child (or a dog), but they laughed at me when I said that he should be receiving commission for bringing them so much business.
What we witnessed this afternoon was the Caste system. The tuk tuk driver was treated as some sort of sub-human, all because he doesn’t make as much money or belong to as wealthy of a family as the tour guide. It all happened so quickly at the time that it took us a few minutes to even realize what had happened, but we also know that being in India, this is to be expected. Things have improved here, for the lower castes and women, but they still have a very long way to go.
This entire situation has been bothering me all day (especially the way this man was spoken to…) and I feel that it will forever change my perspective on travel and culture. As much as I try to respect other cultures and embrace their norms, this is something that, had I caught on more quickly, I could never have allowed to happen.
Frankly, my favorite people so far are all “lower caste”. The servers at the restaurants, the tuk tuk drivers and the ‘bell boys’ at the hotel have been nothing but kind and welcoming to us since we arrived. I can promise you all this: my goal for the next 28 days is to be as kind as I can to these people in an attempt to help balance out the way they are treated by others in their culture…even if it’s only for a moment at a time…